Hidden between a gorge, close to the hill where the great Guru Padmasambhava or Rinpoche meditated, the Hemis monastery has stayed unscathed through several wars and conquests. While other monasteries were plundered and looted, this monastery because of its hidden location and the generosity showed by reigning Buddhist rulers, went on to become so rich that it is believed that this monastery now owns half of the land of Ladakh. Today, the Hemis Monastery is the biggest, richest and the most powerful monastery of Ladakh. Its grandeur is highly praised in the rich history, heritage and mythology of Tantric Buddhism. This monastery attracts a multitude of tourists from various parts of the globe. The mysticism associated with the monastery goes on to claim that Jesus during his 12 years of disappearance spent time meditating with the monks of this monastery.
Location of the Monastery
Set in the picturesque landscape of the Stok range away from the city life, the experience of coming to this monastery is a mix of beauty and bliss. Hemis has a peaceful aura to it. It is surrounded by mustard fields that add colour to the otherwise barren mountains. Hemis is located close to the Hemis high altitude national park which is home to the endangered snow leopard.
Ever since its re-establishment, the Hemis Monastery celebrates its annual festival, the Hemis Tse Chu festival. It is during this festival when the ancient Tantric traditions blossom in all their glory. The vibrant colours burst out among the flock of nuns, lamas and tourists in the monastery. The elaborate costumes, colourful masks, and dramatic dances captivate and enthral the audience. The entire aura of the monastery during this time is so unique that it attracts travellers from all around the world to get blessed by the Lamas surrounded by prayer flags fluttering in the wind. The crowd gathers in the central courtyard of the monastery where the Cham dancers perform. A 12 m long Thangka hangs from the fourth floor to be visible to all.
The Hemis Monastery – A Brief History and Introduction
- Hemis Monastery is a Buddhist monastery of the Tibetan Drukpa lineage.
- Located in the Hemis region of Ladakh, 45 km from Leh.
- One of the largest and oldest monasteries in Ladakh.
- The name translates to “the lonely place of the compassionate person.”
- Established before the 11th century but perished.
- Re-established in 1672 by the Ladakhi King Sengge Namgyal.
- The annual Hemis festival is celebrated to honour the Lord Padmasambhava.
- Its sacred silk painting known as the Thangka is unfurled only after 12 years. The last unfurling happened in 2016.
- Next unfurling to occur in 2028.
- It houses the largest Thangka which is 12 m long.
- It also houses several statues and stupas with semi-precious and precious gems embedded in them.
The Hemis Festival – Celebrating Ladakh’s Biggest Festival
- Marks birthday celebration of Lord Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche.
- Guru Padmasambhava got Vajrayana Buddhism to India and Tibet with an aim to defeat the evil forces with the fundamental principle of Dharma.
- It is celebrated on the tenth day of the Lunar Calendar of Tibetan months.
- Celebration marks the victory of good over evil.
- The Lamas perform the Cham dance, wearing beautifully crafted masks and colourful costumes.
- Colourful masks and dresses make the celebration an unimaginable riot of colours.
- Rituals believed to bring spiritual strength and good health.
- Travellers from all across the world visit Ladakh during this festival.
- This festival is a congregation of adventurers, photographers and writers.
- Visitors collect souvenirs from stalls set up by locals.
- The carnival outside the monastery sees visitors from several remote villages of Ladakh.
- From children to elderly and the people who have never been to this city before, everyone participates with unbound enthusiasm.
- It is the best time to see the local Ladakhi culture.
- Foreign tourists often indulge themselves in clicking pictures of the rehearsing monks.
The Storytellers of Dharma – The Masked Dance Performances
- The Lamas perform the Cham dance which is a part of the Buddhist tantric culture.
- Performances take place in the gompa after the tantric-Vajrayana teachings and rituals.
- The dancers wear masks which portray a variety of expressions.
- The most exciting part of this celebration is the combat show performed by masked actors.
- It showcases fights between the good and the evil.
- A seat adorned with silk cloth and gems is made.
- A cup of uncooked rice and tormas made of dough, butter and incense sticks is placed next to it.
- The seat itself is surrounded by lamas, who then play the traditional instruments including large-sized trumpets.
- The Drukpas followed the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and believed in enlightenment and benefiting others.
- Thus, the Hemis festival conveys the message- “One must overcome all human emotions and desires in order to attain nirvana, and the soul must endure these characteristics.”
Must Do At The Monastery – For a Memorable Trip
- You can enjoy the food of the pretty little Tibetan café right outside the main entrance which serves lip-smacking food. Do not miss different styles of fried rice, noodles and locally made Thukpa and momos.
- You can buy postcards, books, prayer flags and other such souvenirs from the Hemis museum shop. They sell postcards at a low price, and you can buy loads of things for your friends back home.
- Do not restrict yourself to only the central courtyard. Go around and explore, but make sure you do not get lost.
- Start a conversation with the locals (guards, monks, etc.). They help you understand the history of the monastery, and if you put up a good impression, they might even show you around.
How To Reach Hemis Monastery
Mode of Transport
- By Road:
- The Hemis monastery is located 40 km away from the Leh city. It is easily accessible through local buses, taxis or private transport. Make sure you speak to a few taxi operators and check with the current rates before you finalize one.
- Carry a route map with you if you are travelling via your own vehicle as the roads can get confusing.
- You can also travel there through local means of transport. Check timings of the local buses and do not miss your bus.
- By Air:
- Flights are available for Srinagar from Delhi on a daily basis. You can drive up from Srinagar to Leh by the Zoji-La pass which serves as the gateway to Ladakh, with a stopover at Kargil or the Lamayuru monastery. Flights also operate from Delhi to Leh which can take up to 45 mins or one hour.
You can also drive up to Leh through the Manali-Leh highway that goes through the famous Rohtang pass, or you can trek through various routes like Spiti-Kaza-Tso Moriri trek, Padum-Zanskar-Leh trek, Baralacha la to Hemis, Chandratal-Spiti-Baralacha la trek, Garhwal-Changthang, Udaipur(Himachal)-Padum-Shingola pass trek.
Things To Remember For The Hemis Festival
- Plan your trip to Ladakh around the Hemis festival when the Tibetan and the Buddhist culture is at its best! You wouldn’t want to turn up a day later and realise that all the fun activities are over.
- Drop in a little earlier to see all the dancers and Lamas prepare for the dance. This way, you will get to know what happens behind the scenes.
- Photographers should grab the right place and set up their cameras. Getting closer to the stage should be your priority.
- Interact with the local monks. Get to know more about the festival, the celebrations and legends associated with it.
- The monastery remains closed from 12 pm to 2 pm. So make sure you don’t land at the wrong time.
The Hemis monastery also has its own school for spiritual and meditative learning. Enthusiasts from all over the world travel to the monastery to learn the fundamental basics of Buddhism and meditation. While they learn all this, they also live their lives as monks. It is a one of a kind experience altogether.
The Hemis festival is undoubtedly one of the most happening festivities that take place in Ladakh. There would be no better time to travel to the Mountain Kingdom than during this time and witness the awesomeness of the Hemis festival.
The Hemis festival gives you an opportunity to explore the local culture and the everyday lives of the Ladakhis. The festival is so important that the government announces a two days holiday. During this time, you can see the monastery in full blossom. You’ll see so much of action in an otherwise quiet and peaceful atmosphere; you will see happy people all around as they are ready to begin a new phase of the year. Moreover, every twelve years when the Thangka is displayed, the number of tourists visiting the city increases. The locals are more than happy to have you aboard during this cultural celebration. Plan your holiday to witness Ladakh’s most exotic festivals and make memories of a lifetime.
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